Opera has become synonymous with furs, formal wear, and epically fat people singing extra high notes about how they feel unloved in a language that nobody understands. It doesn’t have to be that way. Many operas are perfect for children, with larger than life characters, funny situations, lavish sets and costumes, and of course, the music, which is composed, played, and sung by some of the most talented musicians, composers, and singers in the universe.
Here are four operas that are especially designed for children and their families. Your children will not snooze through these!
Hansel and Gretel was created by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck along with his sister Adelheid Wette. She asked him to create some music to accompany some stories that she was telling her children for Christmas. One of the stories was Grimm’s classic tale of the evil witch with a candy house and the two plucky children who manage to defeat the witch by shoving her into her own oven. What started as four songs turned into a complete opera. It premiered in Weimar Germany on December 23, 1893, and has since become a classic holiday tale. Many American opera companies use an English language libretto so that the foreign language barrier becomes a non-issue.
Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book about a boy who travels to a land where monsters have terrible parties served as the inspiration for Oliver Knussen, who was commissioned to compose the score, with the libretto by Sendak himself. The first production was in Brussels in 1980, but the composer re-worked the music and its final version premiered in London in 1984, produced by the Glyndebourne Touring Opera. It has since been performed many times in opera houses around the world.
Mozart’s classic fairy tale about a princess being rescued by a prince features some of the most recognizable music ever. Crazy characters include a bird-seller, the evil Queen of the Night, a secret society, three magical spirits, and of course the magic flute itself. For those with kids with short attention spans, there is an abridged version of the Magic Flute which tells the story and keeps the most recognizable music and the funniest characters in the forefront.
This opera is an opera about getting kids to like opera. In the show, two kids discover their grandfather’s old opera records in the attic. Not expecting much, they put them on, and classic opera vignettes come to life with easy to read English translations and large video projections. The opera vignettes are classics by Mozart, Offenbach, Puccini, and Bizet, among others. It is a fantastic introduction to a number of classic composers created by Chicago’s Lyric Opera as the perfect first opera.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to operas that are good for children. If you’ve got a favorite opera that we should have mentioned, please list it in the comments below!